Category Archives: Job Hunting

Job Hunting advice

The 3 Rs of Creativity and Careers

The 3 Rs of Creativity and Careers

I found myself coining a new phrase to capture some of the key ideas in career development. The phrase is:

  • Reinvent,
  • Respond,
  • Resort

The idea flowed from an inspiration from Steve Jobs being interviewed by Stephen Fry in Time Magazine. Jobs responding to Fry’s question about his “career” said “”I do stuff. I respond to stuff. That’s not a career — it’s a life!”. Herein is a great way of thinking about 21st century careers “I do stuff. I respond to stuff”. Indeed it reminds me of what Tim Costello said at conference in Melbourne last year “My career has not been linear, rather I made the best decisions I could at the time”. (I used that last quote in my youtube video on Chaos Theory of Careers and Reinvention) video.


The Problem with “Career”
A lot of commentators have argued that the term “career” no longer adequately describes the experience of work, non-work roles, education and so on. Modern paid employment is increasingly unstable, interrupted and unpredictable. For some the response is that we can “design” a life, however for me such a term too closely resembles the traditional predict and control ideas associated with careers in stable labor markets. The metaphor of jazz improvisation is close to my heart as a jazz lover, the idea of making it up as you go along – or more accurately reinventing, responding and resorting. Such an approach inevitably leads to notions of creativity. Making the move from predictability and design, to improvisation and creativity is a significant one, because it allows counsellors, coaches and educators to put their efforts into fostering these desirable qualities, and from these a career will emerge. In Steve Jobs’ words, it encourages us to do stuff and respond to stuff.

One of the consequences of making this shift is that we move from predictions to patterns (see my paper with my friend Robert Pryor called “Shiftwork” in the Australian Journal of Career Development, or look at a earlier post here. Some of the patterns that are worth looking at are ones associated with successful creativity and imagination or improvisation. For instance Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple are often the focus of enquiries into their success. Jobs’ own comment that “creativity is making the links” is instructive, as it provides a practical clue to creativity. This is explored in my Beyond Personal Mastery® model of Creativity (see Beyond Personal Mastery website.

We can also study failure in creativity (failure is an important and neglected component of career development see the presentation “Failing Sucessfully” with Robert Pryor in podcast form on this site for more details). For instance 9/11 has been described by terrorism experts as a “failure of imagination” on behalf of the security forces because they had failed to imagine the awful tactics that the terrorists would employ. It turns out that the security game is a creative challenge in the same way that to a greater or lesser extent all occupations are. In John Paul Getty’s words if you haven’t got a problem, you haven’t got a job. Jobs are exercises in problem solving. If there were no problem to solve, why employ a person? The solution to that problem can be an employee – but where is the employee located? Is it cheaper to employ that person in India or China? Secondly, it is cheaper or faster (ie more efficient) to get a machine or computer to solve the problem and finally is does the solution to the problem produce something that people need or want? These are Dan Pink’s three questions from his Whole New Mind book (2005) – is what you are offering meeting the challenges of Asia, Automation and Abundance. Perhaps the most likely way to fail to rise up to this challenge is to fail to generate creative solutions to whatever problems are posed.

For me making this move from predictability and control to unpredictability, patterning, improvisation and reinvention – creativity permits us to engage in tasks that address the challenges everyone of us face in order to survive and thrive in life. Patterns will emerge in our lives over time, and inevitably we will fall into the trap of oversimplifying them into a story which is better than trying to describe them in terms of an assortment of trait test scores, but still represents, be in no doubt, an oversimplified and usually overly neat version of events. We can look into those stories and scores (for both can be very useful) to help us make our next moves, but we can do so much more by also straining to see the possibilities and not just the probabilities (see the paper with my friends Norm Amundson and Robert Pryor in Career Development Quarterly on this point, or look at the Creative Thinking Strategies cards that address this as a practical thinking tool CTS cards link. We want to encourage people to be continually trying to make new links and associations, which implies continually experiencing new things and reflecting and learning, as well as trying things out, which in turn will need to new insights and experiences and so on – the essence of Beyond Personal Mastery® indeed.

“Careers” do not exist in their own right, rather if “a career” means anything it is a description of the pattern of experiences, thoughts, learning and reflections that emerge from “doing stuff” and “responding to stuff”, indeed it comes from continually Reinventing, Responding and Resorting. In the Chaos Theory of Careers terms it is an emergent pattern generated by the complex dynamical systems that we are and that we interact with. It also follows that his pattern will not be totally random, but will have a structure that repeats, but it may well be exceedingly complex and prone to sudden unpredictable reconfiguration.

That is why these three words resonate for me when thinking about careers: Reinventing, Responding, and Resorting

Reinventing
Invent from the latin “venir” to come, and so invent to come upon, or find. Re-invent, to come upon again, find again, or find another. Hence when we talk of “finding ourselves”, we are inventing or re-inventing ourselves. However because we are so beautifully complex and ever-changing, there are infinite things to find out, or come upon, so and there are an infinite number of ways that we can reinvent ourselves. Some of these reinventions may simply be a matter or “tweaking”, “tightening” or “tuning”, but never under-estimate the benefits of a well tuned instrument or well-tuned engine, often it makes all the difference between success and failure. However even the best instruments or engines need a re-tune. In my office at the recording studios, whenever musicians come in to record and need the Yamaha CFIII 9’ Concert Grand, a piano tuner is employed to make sure it is right, and there is always something that needs doing. As I said even the best need this. So even for those for whom things seem to be going fine, there is still the need for reinvention.

For those for whom things are not going so well, reinvention is more obviously necessary and pressing. The changes required may also not be much more than a re-tune, but may require much more significant reinvention. Sometimes it is hard to recognise it is the same person at the end of it.

Reinvention is a central concept in many career development theories in so far as it implies a conscious and thoughtful approach, it emphasises the planning and designing elements.  It has a certain rationality associated with it.  It is not hard to see the relevance of ideas such as Arthur’s Intelligent career “knowing why, knowing how, knowing whom” or Acjzen’s Planned Behaviour – Behavioral, Normative and Control Attitudes, or Constructivist notions such as writing the next chapter, or indeed classic positivistic ideas about matching and planning (e.g. Holland 1959, Dawis & Lofquist, 1984).  All of the approaches cited emphasise the importance of “Think before you act”.  Action is primarily based upon a rational consideration of what we know or believe and what we perceive we want or need to do.

However I mean Reinvention in a broader sense that also includes spontaneous, continuous and unplanned reinvention.  I am not at all sure outside of the confines of a counsellor’s office whether we consciously design our lives or spend time writing the next chapters.  I am not even sure it is possible.  How does it work?  We sit down and literally or metaphorically write the next chapter?  But the act of projecting into this future takes time and hence intrudes into that future, meaning that whatever we see at the beginning of the future in our projections cannot be, because we are too busy thinking about it, to allow it to happen. Hence immediately there is a slippage between what we think will happen next and what does happen next.  If you believe in sensitivity to initial conditions and non-linearity (i.e. that small changes now can have profound impacts later) then these slippages really matter.

This is in essence a variation of Kitching’s (2008) reminder that we not only think about the world, we act in it too.  Discoveries about the world are made by acting in the world as well as thinking about it.  Experience is not limited to the experience of thinking, but generally and more commonly is comprised of action.  Why does this matter?  Because I believe that privileging “Think before you act” over “Act before you think” is limited and limiting when it comes to careers.   The Chaos Theory of Careers characterises all of us as ultimately limited in our knowledge and that ourselves and our world are ultimately never fully knowable.  Thus there is always uncertainty in any situation.  The rational/cognitivist response (the dominant view in Careers) is to acknowledge that fact and then seek to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible through rational thought, planning and so forth. No matter how well we do this, not all contingencies can be imagined, and sometimes acting in the world is a more efficient way of discovering them and learning.  Thought compliments action, it is not necessarily pre-eminent. Action provides the content for the narrative, and a script provides the motivation for action.

That people often act, and sometimes without a well articulated plan ought to be self-evident from countless recollections from people in all walks of life, including the comment from Steve Jobs, “I do stuff”.  We often act on the basis of hunches or impulse yet such behaviour is frowned upon or not readily accounted for in most Career Development theories.

For professionals working the field the challenge is how do we help people reinvent themselves, what are the processes involved, and what works best when and how. There is a practice and research agenda right there!

Responding
from spondere to promise or pledge, hence pledge in return – respond. Often it is how we respond to changing events that can influence or even determine our “career” success. It is understandable but unfortunate that those who are confronted by a serious setback may respond with negativity, self-limited thinking and perhaps even depression making it even more difficult to respond in a positive way. Responding to failure by saying “that’s interesting” rather than “why me” or “never again” may help in learning rather than ingraining an avoidance philosophy.

Recognising the need to be responsive and that we will inevitably have to respond to things is an important first step. Again I would argue that traditional approaches in our field that emphasise predictability, planning and goal-setting serve to diminish the importance of responding. If you have everything planned, then responses are predictable and well thought through.  Sometimes this is a very sensible thing to do, but on occasions the ability to respond spontaneously, authentically, quickly, and to unexpected events can be critical.  Rather I argue that we need to privilege Responding and Responsiveness and support, model, coach, teach, educate and research effective responding. What does it mean to respond? How do we avoid characteristic responses? How do we avoid responding in the most expedient manner? How could we respond creatively? What are benefits of delaying responding? How can be learn to trust hunches?  How can be improve our responses to the unexpected?  Etc.

Resorting
The last word, the final resort, perhaps seems to be least comfortably appropriate word here. Resort – from sortir to go (out), hence to go, to act. I also mean re-sort as in rearrange here. Hence I like the word because it can imply action as well as rearrangement, and of course resorts are nice places to go to!

So in my first sense here, Resorting means acting or “doing stuff”. Through action new possibilities arise, as set out in the Action Steps of Beyond Personal Mastery®. It also implies the implementation of hitherto unused options – i.e. I had to resort to climbing in through the window. Often we are at our most creative when we are obliged to resort. It implies “stretch” a term that is trendy amongst HR practitioners as in a “stretch assignment” one that encourages the person to maximise their potential and use all of their resources.

In the second sense Re-sort, the term captures that often creativity and reinvention are right under our noses waiting to be discovered. It can often be a case of taking existing things and combining them in novel ways. Sometimes we discover these things by accident or failure, like failing to wash our hands! The artificial sweetener Saccharin was discovered when chemist Constantin Fahlberg didn’t wash his hands after a day at work. Fahlberg was trying to come up with new uses for coal tar. After going home noticed the rolls he was eating tasted sweet. He asked his wife if she had done anything interesting to the rolls, but she hadn’t. They tasted normal to her. Fahlberg realized the taste must have been coming from his hands — which he hadn’t washed.

In career terms re-sorting can occur by taking a fresh look at our knowledge, skills and abilities – our transferable skills if you will and finding new connections or arrangements of them. Sometimes University degree courses and trade training will deliberately encourage students to “think like a” psychologist/engineer/doctor/plumber/chef etc. While this serves a purpose, it may also discourage the person to think more laterally or creatively about their knowledge and skills. It is not uncommon for students so-encouraged years later to have an epiphany as they come to the realisation that they can combine their training with other experiences in a way that is creative, effective and yet still ethical. Stoltenberg and Delworth (1987) model of Supervision captures this type of notion in their level 3 supervisor who “shows increased professional self-confidence, with only conditional dependency on the supervisor. He or she has greater insight and shows more stable motivation. Supervision becomes more collegial, with sharing exemplification augmented by professional and personal confrontation”.

Re-sorting can be aided by “professional and personal confrontation” – i.e. by challenging ourselves in terms of what we think we know, and to also think about what we know we dont know, and what we dont know we know and finally Taleb’s (2007) Black Swans – what we don’t know we don’t know. Taleb calls such cases Black swans, because in the past Europeans thought all swans were white and did not know that they did not know that in Perth, swans are black.

So continually re-sorting our knowledge and skills is also a critical component of career creativity.

So there is my Kick Rs approach to being creative in Careers. Those three words: Reinventing, Responding, Resorting may seem simple but as I’ve tried to illustrate, or at least alluded, they depend on a whole new approach to Career Development derived from Robert Pryor and Jim Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers, Shiftwork, Beyond Personal Mastery® and the work of other leading thinkers in this field including Norm Amundson, Spencer Niles, Mark Savickas, Raoul von Esbroeck, Jean-Pierre Dauwalder and many others.

References

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211

Bright, J.E.H. & Pryor, R.G.L.. (2008). Shiftwork: A Chaos Theory Of Careers Agenda For Change In Career Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development. 17(3), 63-72.

Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005). The chaos theory of careers: a users guide. Career Development Quarterly. Vol 53(4) Jun 2005, 291-305

Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist, L. H. (1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment. Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press.

Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35-45.

Kitching, G. (2008). The trouble with Postmodernism. UNSW press.

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind. Allen and Unwin.

Pryor R.G.L., Amundson, N., & Bright, J. (2008). Possibilities and probabilities: the role of chaos theory.  Career Development Quarterly 56 (4), 309-318.

Savickas et al (2009). Life Designing. Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Stoltenberg, C. D., & Delworth, U. (1987) Supervising counselors and therapists. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Taleb, N. (2007). The Black Swan. Random House.

Career development better than sex or an alternative?

Career development has a yearly low point about June, but the good news is we are on an upward curve, until about September.  After that, if you are a Career Development professional or careers author looking at launching a book, forget about it and take a long vacation till January.  I am basing my advice on the number of people who are searching on Google using the terms Career Development.  I have been playing with Google trends, one of their analytic services that provides information on the volumes of searches on certain keywords over time.  The trend pattern for the search term “Career Development” is in the first graphic below.

The pattern is interesting because it repeats more or less in the same fashion every year since 2004 (the earliest that Google Trends presents).  Within each calendar year, searches peak in the Jan- March quarter and tail off to a low around mid-year.  They then build again in the third quarter before collapsing catastrophically in December.

Looking at the graph, it is interesting that major events such as the global financial crisis do not show up in terms increased search activity.  It suggests that “career development” is a search that people make irrespective of global financial conditions, but not irrespective of personal concerns – for instance swopping career planning for Christmas shopping in December.

The figures are largely dominated as you’d expect by US searches.  The data for other countries is generally so small and incomplete that it shows no sensible pattern.  So the other possible “story” in this data could be that career development searches peak after major holiday times.  I.e. straight after Christmas, after Easter, and at the end of the long summer vacation and do I detect a small peak around Thanksgiving (towards the end of November) as well?  Well it is hardly news that newspapers are full of “New Years” resolutions and life planning type articles, but the other periods of peaks are less obvious.  Do we need this time away from work to reflect on where we are going?  Is it breathing space that creates the demand for career development ideas?

The second point about these trends that is clear is that the term “career development” is being searched less and less each year.  The downward trend is unmissable, but what is causing it?

Maybe the term “Career Development” is less resonant than it was half a decade ago.  If that is the case, it is ironic given that some professional groups such as the Career Development Association of Australia recently changed their name to include this term.   Equally another group I belong to, the National Career Development Association in the US, may want to take note.  When we compare the search pattern on the simpler term “Careers” we see a very different and more positive story.

Firstly the term is being searched more often than it was.  Are we ready to rebadge as Careers Professionals or CIs – “Careers International” members, which captures the increasingly popular term and takes it global.  Furthermore this search term does seem to be sensitive to world events showing the strong upward trend coinciding with the worldwide economic deterioration.

The term is also more consistently searched throughout the year and does not appear to be as subject to the seasonal variations of the “Career development term”, other than it shows the characteristic terminal drop coinciding with Christmas.  Honestly it’s almost enough to make you an atheist!!

One possibility is that the term “careers” is more closely associated with “jobs” and “employment” whereas “career development” might be seen as a more disconnected, reflective activity. Some support for this hypothesis can be seen in the trend graph for “jobs” which resembles the “careers” search trend graph more than the “career development” search graph.

The term “coaching” also displays seasonal variation and something of a slight decline over the last five years. If anything, the interesting aspect of the coaching search pattern is the apparent peak just before Christmas evident in most years, as well as the mid year slump and end of year shut down.  Not sure what to make of that.  Perhaps people seek coaching to improve their performance in a role they are struggling to stay motivated in.  Then if and when that fails to address their malaise, they look not to stay in the role, but to change careers, and hence they then seek career development.  Just a wild stab in the dark.

And talking of wild stabs in the dark, the last graph throws up a somewhat unexpected relationship between Career Development and Sex.

“Sex” searches have definitely drooped since the Global Financial Crisis making them more labile than “career development” but they do show a cyclic pattern.  If you look at the trends for searches on “sex” it seems to show almost the opposite of what is happening with searches for “career development”.  Thus “sex” searches peak when “career development” searches wilt.  In other words, when a person is not thinking about career development, their thoughts turn in a very different direction!  I am really not sure what the implications of this are for those of us who proclaim a passion and enduring interest in career development. You might think it, but I could not possibly say….

Leaving a job: Telling people where to stick it and helping them remember where

Leaving a job: Telling people where to stick it and helping them remember where

I was in Woolworths the other day and decided to try out an alternative career as a check out chap using their self service system. I came away mystified and marveling – mystified as to how to open those flimsy plastic bags provided for your shopping and marveling that the professional check out jockeys manage this feat with elan.  More importantly I came away with colonoscopies firmly forced right up into the forefront of my mind.

Parting may be sweet sorrow for Juliet, but whomever programmed the self-service’s parting comments at Woolies has evidently heard of neither William Shakespeare nor it would seem Nobel Laureate Dr Daniel Kahneman.  There is nothing sweet about the parting shot from the Woolies self-service.  Shoppers leave with “Please take your items…” ringing in their ears. Sounds fair enough until you detect in the intonation that something is missing at the end of this phrase. I find myself adding “and stick it up your…”. Thus I leave my local grocer miffed and colonoscopy-focussed. Which brings me to Danny Kahneman…

Kahneman famously studied colonoscopy procedures to see how the patients registered pain during the invasion and how they subsequently remembered their pain. Memory is important here because when we make decisions about most things in life, we rely on, to quote more Shakespeare, remembrance of things past.  So if our memories of an event are aversive, we are less likely to voluntarily repeat the experience.  Kahneman showed counter to intuition that longer colonoscopy procedures were not necessarily recalled as more painful than shorter procedures.  The memory of the pain was associated most strongly with experiences of pain in the last few minutes of the indignity.  So regardless of length, if you had a shocker in the last few minutes this tended to outweigh any fun had to that point.

In other words, whether it is your local grocer or a professional wielding a camera that goes where reality t.v. normally lives, if you want to engage the customer or patient for a voluntary repeat experience you need to leave them laughing or at least not howling like an inmate surprised in a shower.  The final interaction colors our memories disproportionally.

The same principle applies right across career development.  For instance Andrew Clark and Yannis Georgellis from Brunel University found that current job satisfaction is an inadequate measure for predicting whether folks will leave a job. It turns out when you ask someone whether they are satisfied in their job, they interrogate their memories, and memory being a tricky blighter throws up a response that is disproportionately biased toward current feelings.

They found that if you want to predict who will leave, measure job satisfaction regularly, and average across the peak level of satisfaction found over time and the most recent level of satisfaction.  In fact peak satisfaction was twice as important as recent satisfaction in their predictions.  The amount of change in satisfaction also predicted quit decisions as well.  So to engage staff, aim to get the satisfaction levels as high as possible and monitor changes to try to keep them high. Don’t get complacent, if the latest levels have dropped a lot, it could spell trouble.

More generally, the leave them laughing principle applies to developing relationships and networking.  Those who are good at these essential career skills are conscious of leaving interactions – meetings, calls, emails, texts or twitters – on a high note. So Woolies, consider adding “and thanks for your business”.  With this principle in mind, thanks for reading this and till we met again, I wish you peak career satisfaction for the week ahead.

Job Hopping- are claims it is bad for your career justified?

Human Resource Management Professor Monika Hamori’s recent report published in the Harvard Business Review in July 2010 (http://bit.ly/byC0ZY) casts doubt on the conventional wisdom that moving jobs can accelerate your promotion through the ranks. In particular she argues this casts doubt on the Boundaryless Career idea (see David Winter’s piece on the Careers in Theory Blog).  Indeed Profesor Hamori identifies 4 “myths” associated with advancement. They are a) Job Hoppers prosper; b) A move should always be up c) Big fish swim in big ponds and d) Career and Industry switchers are penalized. On the face of it, such findings appear to cast doubt on the ideas behind the Boundaryless Career. Lets take a look at each of these arguments in their turn, because clearly such provocative conclusions demand closer consideration.

The Research

The first thing to say is that Professor Hamori is not some opinionated commentator hollering from the sidelines. She has an impressive evidence-base upon which she draws her conclusions. Specifically, she considered 14,000 career histories of non CEO executives in four sectors of the financial services industry. These records were stored by a large multi-national search firm. She also looked at the career histories of CEOs of Financial Times top 500 European companies and Standard and Poor’s top 500 US firms. In addition she collected interview data from a relatively small number of executive recruiters (45) and Business School alumni (20).

The Job Hopper Fallacy

Hamori’s case for rejecting the notion that job hoppers prosper faster rests on several lines of evidence.

  • Firstly she reports that her CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers (with 25% having been with the same company throughout their careers).
  • Secondly amongst her 14,000 non CEO executives, she reported that inside moves produced a “considerably” higher percentage and a faster pace of promotions compared to external promotions.
  • Thirdly, Hamori provides a couple of selected quotes from her interviews with recruiters to support her speculation that companies prefer to see “stability” in their executives’ career paths.

A closer look at the numbers

On the face of what is presented in the Harvard Business Review Article, it is difficult to make any precise arguments about the interpretation of the data, because too little is presented to do this (this is simply a reflection of the demands of writing for a non scientific audience and not a shortcoming of the work upon which the article is based). However I did locate an earlier paper by Hamori and Kakarika (2009, Human Resources Management, June) that reports the CEO data in great detail. This helps to clarify some of the findings.

Firstly according to Hamori & Kakarika (2009) “We found that CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead (% of career spent with organization…or have spent their entire professional career with the organization… take almost one and a half years less time [my italics] to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization, other factors being equal (Models 2 and 3). In addition…specifically, for each additional employer the predicted time to the top will increase by more than half a year, other factors being equal….On average, lifetime CEOs reached their current position in 23.1 years, while those who had six or more employers took 26.75 years to get to the top.”

For example, the statement that “CEOs who have spent a higher percentage of their career with the organization they currently lead… take almost one and a half years less time to be appointed to the CEO position of a large organization” does not specify “one and a half years less time compared to who?”. In fact, looking at the units in which % of career is assessed, it turns out that one and a half years is the difference between someone who has spent 0% of their career with the organization compared to someone who has spent all their career with the org, which is a fairly extreme comparison. (As an aside, note how this relationship doesn’t quite make sense conceptually. Effectively, it says that someone who has spent all their career with the organization that they lead will have gotten there more quickly than someone who has spent none of their time with the organization that they lead?!).

Also, when you look at the size of the correlations, they are less than .10 for two of the three IVs, which is the benchmark below which Cohen says things start to get trivial.

An alternative interpretation of the data: Job hopping is good for your career

So if we compare the most rusted on CEOs with the most fickle regular movers in the sample, staying put provides a time advantage of at the very most 13.64% over about quarter of a century. Whilst these figures provide no support on the face of it for those who advocate moving to enhance a career, the benefits of staying put are hardly so large that it is self-evident that staying put is the best strategy. Does getting to the top three years earlier real mean very much over such a period of time? When set against some of the plausible benefits of moving around such as greater diversity of experience, and perhaps a richer more storied personal history, three years seems a small price to pay. Indeed it amounts to little more than accrued sick leave and a few other days off every year.

A more serious concern is whether the conclusion that not moving is better for advancement can be substantiated. This is based on correlational data showing a negative relationship between the number of moves and the time taken to make CEO. It makes the assumption that those who leave had an equal shot at the top job compared to their colleagues who remain. This is a very dubious assumption to make.

Consider this: suppose a town has an Easter egg shortage, such that each of the seven shops have only one egg for sale. There are seven shoppers who turn up at the first store. Only one is going to get the egg. The remaining six walk over to the next store, where five miss out. These five move on to the next store. Eventually we have a pattern that shows the person who did the most walking (the hapless customer who had to go to all seven stores before securing their egg) also took the longest time to get their eggs. Moving stores and time to get eggs shows exactly the same relationship as moving organisations and time to get to CEO in Hamori and Kakarika’s work. However nobody would advise the customers who have missed out to hang around in the first store because they might never get an egg.

There are far more executives in any one company than there are CEO positions, and if the company has good succession planning in place, then there will be more executives suitable and capable of being CEO than there are CEO roles (one). So even putting aside the very important fact that not all executives are equally capable or suitable of being CEO, the data does not provide any evidence to support the author’s conclusions that staying within the organisation is a good move for anyone other than the person who ultimately makes it to CEO. Now you could argue in the Easter Egg example, that those shoppers who missed out in the first store and move on actually have to join other shoppers already milling around in the next store waiting for the egg to be tossed into the crowd. However, this is still a better option than staying in the first store that has run out of eggs. Indeed the person who moves will secure an egg faster than had they not moved.

The problem lies in the notion of all other things being equal. If the selection process of CEOs was essentially random and also regular within each company, then all other things are cancelled out (are equal), and so you may as well stay and take your chances. However this is a huge and unjustifiable assumption to make in any top 500 organisation that all have very explicit and structured processes for identifying and developing talent. It illustrates a type of “ecological fallacy”, where a relationship observed at the between-person level (i.e., “people who move jobs more often take longer to become CEO than people who move less often”) is used to make an inference at the within-person level (i.e., “for a given person, moving jobs will increase the time to become CEO”). As the two levels (between-person and within-person) are statistically and conceptually independent of each other, findings from one level do not necessarily generalise to the other level.

Consequently, it is entirely possible for the negative relationship to exist at the between-person level while at the same time for job hopping to be beneficial for some (or even all) people. The important point is that the job hopper fallacy is a within-person (or individual level) phenomenon that isn’t necessarily going to be adequately tested using a between-person analysis. At the individual level, which is where the Career Counsellors work (the ones that are explicitly singled out for perpetuating “myths” about advancement and movement), advising an executive who has been overlooked for a key promotion that precedent indicates is the pathway to the CEO position to remain with the company rather than looking elsewhere makes little sense. The research as presented is not powerful enough to pick up such career reversals or plateaus.

So if the executive has been identified as the “most likely to”, then advising them to stay with the organisation makes sense. Indeed the advice may well be superfluous because that executive is far more likely to enjoy a range of benefits, bonuses, perks, recognition, feedback and training that all serve to enhance engagement. The moving to enhance your career may be a myth for that very select group. But for everyone else, given that everything else is not equal, their chances within their current company are not equal to everyone else’s, moving may be the quickest route to a CEO role, even if it takes longer than those who remain because they’ve already been identified as going places.

Staying with the company does not cause a person to become a CEO quicker, it is merely associated with that promotion for those who made it. Clearly if one included all the executives who didn’t move irrespective of whether they made it to CEO or not, the correlation between not moving and time to make CEO would show a very strong positive relationship between time served and time waiting to become CEO. One final point is that the fact that CEOs worked for three employers on average throughout their careers doesn’t really tell us anything about the usefulness of job hopping unless we also know how many employers the people who didn’t make it to CEO worked for. For all we know, the latter group may have only worked for one or two employers, which would support the job hopping idea.

A limited view of promotion and career advancement

In Hamori’s work, promotion (other than attaining the CEO role) is defined as “a better title with more responsibility or propelled the executive to a larger firm”. This is a very narrow definition. It does not, for instance take into account remuneration or other benefits and conditions. It equates the size of a firm with managerial complexity which may be an over-simplification. Managing a large group of people in a well established and otherwise well run and successful organisation may be a lot simpler than managing a small dysfunctional team in a complex, competitive and rapidly changing environment. It also doesn’t take into account a whole swathe of work rewards such as autonomy, altruism, quality of co-workers, surroundings, skill development, freedom, work-life balance, and lifestyle factors to name just a few.

It doesn’t take into account job satisfaction either. People often move jobs because they are frustrated. The ambitious do so because they often perceive their ambitions are being frustrated. It is questionable whether advising such people to remain with their employer is going to result in positive career outcomes in all or perhaps even most cases.

The focus and privileging Fortune Admired and top 100/ 500 companies may well reflect the client-base of the Executive search firm that provided a lot of interviews and career histories for analysis. This may promote the notion that only moves to the higher echelons of these lists can be deemed promotions. If broader conceptions of advancement that go beyond the narrow confines of market indexes are considered, what would be the impact upon the data? A move should be up – is this really a myth? This brings me to the “second myth” – which is that “A move should be up”. This myth came as a surprise to me, because I am not sure how many credible authorities are pushing such a message. Indeed I would argue anecdotally that most credible careers professionals promote privately and publicly the view that “side-ways” moves often provide opportunities, and indeed “moves-down” can provide, as Norm Amundson would say the “backswing” momentum to propel one forward. So this myth seems to be of the straw-man variety.

Performance is overlooked

The study has nothing to say about how the individual CEO’s actually perform. Granted this is a complex and contentious area, however it is important to have a sense of relative performance, because there is a possibility that those who move perform better than those who stay. There is no evidence in their data for this proposition, but supposing it were true, where does that leave the conclusion that moving for advancement is a “myth”? There are several possible confounds that could account for Hamori & Kakarika’s (2009) findings not least of which are ability and personality (e.g., highly able, conscientious and emotionally stable individuals are more likely to stay at a firm and also more likely to become CEO). Another big confound relates to people in the sample who started their own corporations early on (see H&K, 2009, p.361 under Dependent Variable).

For example, a person who starts his own corporation out of grad school would score 0 for time taken to become CEO (i.e., the minimum score) and would score 100% for % of career with organisation (i.e., the maximum score). Obviously this greatly inflates the observed negative relationship!

Big fish and big ponds

Here Hamori uses lists like the Fortune’s most Admired lists to judge whether executives are moving from bigger name to smaller name companies. It would be intriguing to get a close look at this data, because such lists have very significant volatility and turnover. The so called “stumble rate” of companies knocked off their most admired perches from one year the next is quite high (49%), and even in the highest echelons of the top 50 all stars, only 17 companies remain on the list that appeared on the initial one in 2001. Consequently with all this volatility, trying to say anything definitive about moves from big names to smaller names seems fraught with difficulty. Afterall Apple’s market value was $7.09 billion in 2001 (when the Fortune list began), and Microsoft’s was $332.73 billion. So leaving Microsoft for Apple presumably was seen as a bad move. In 2010 the Apple’s capitalization was $225.98 billion to Microsoft’s $225.32. Things change and rapidly.

Anecdotal Data

The arguments are supported with appeals to interviews with executive search recruiters, who reinforce the view that too many moves are a bad thing. They claim they and their clients prefer to see only a few moves perhaps interspersed with periods of stability (e.g. An “eight-year run”).

CONCLUSIONS –

There is nothing here to support the claim that moving advances your career is a myth. Hamori’s work is interesting, well presented and thoroughly analysed. It makes a provocative contribution to our understanding of career advancement. However her criticism of the idea that movement can lead to success as being a “myth” is premature, and is not supported by the data she presents. There are too many other variables that plausibly might be at play here that are simply not considered within the narrow definitions of career success or within the dataset.

The size of the effects she reports in practical terms seem underwhelming over the period of time it takes to become a CEO. Another way of looking at this data would be to say, if your path to the CEO route looks to be blocked in one company then moving a couple of times may only delay you by about 12 – 18 months in the worst case scenario that you would have made it to CEO had you stayed put. If, however, you wouldn’t have made it had you stayed put, then moving has probably got you to the CEO role faster than staying put. Given there can only be one CEO (in nearly all companies), then my alternative scenario is more likely to apply. In other words this data can just as easily be interpreted to draw precisely the opposite conclusion.

There are valid criticisms that can be levelled at the Boundaryless career idea, for instance Rodrigues and Guest (2010) review evidence suggesting that moving jobs is not on the increase to the degree that some commentators claim but has always been part of the scene. They conclude that “what we seem to be witnessing is not the demise but rather a redefinition, a growing complexity, and a more subjective perspective on career boundaries (Heracleous, 2004).” pp 1170. I’d agree.

References

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hamori, M & Kakarika, M. (2009) EXTERNAL LABOR MARKET STRATEGY AND CAREER SUCCESS: CEO CAREERS IN EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES Human Resource Management, May–June 2009, Vol. 48, No. 3, Pp. 355– 378

Heracleous, L. (2004). Boundaries in the study of organaization. Human Relations 57(1): 95-103.

Rodgrigues, R.A. & Gust, D. (2010). Have Careers become boundaryless. Human Relations, 63, 1157. DOI: 10.1177/018726709354344

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my colleague Dr Amirali Minbashian for his feedback and comments that have helped to shape my thoughts for this piece. I’d also like to thank David Winter from the Careers in Theory Blog http://bit.ly/aPBGq9 for agreeing to us posting our thoughts simultaneously on The Factory Blog and the Careers in Theory Blog.

The Factory Podcast Interview with the late Dick Bolles

The Factory Podcast Interview with Dick Bolles

Sadly, Dick died on Friday 31st March 2017 soon after his 90th birthday.  I am re-posting this interview that he generously granted me in 2010 in California.  In the interview amongst other things,  he discusses the idea of legacy.

Vale Dick Bolles.

 

Jim Bright 8th April 2017

The interview

I arranged to meet with Richard Nelson Bolles or Dick Bolles as he is otherwise known during the National Career Development Conference in 2010. He is no stranger to anyone as the author of the spectacularly popular What color is your parachute? self-help careers guide. I was interested in hearing what motivated him to write the book, how it came about and how his life took him in this particular direction.

His book has been published for more than 40 years and is updated every year – something that is very rare in publishing, let alone careers publishing.  Dick was concerned his book had been trimmed down for the recession the US was experiencing at the time and had resolved to increase the size of the book in the next edition.  The striking thing about the book is how the ideas are presented in very practical terms and always from the job hunters perspective. Nor is Dick afraid to tackle bigger subjects, and his religious training gives him the authority of voice to address issues of purpose very effectively.  This is an area of job hunting that is often overlooked, yet how common is it, that job hunters lose heart and motivation in the face of rejection?

The interview was recorded over lunch in a restaurant in the hotel in San Francisco. It was interesting and impressive to see several people including waiters come up to our table to thank Dick for his work, telling stories of how his book had improved their lives. In the interview, I ask Dick what he wants his legacy to be. His answer is very interesting. Enjoy!

Dick Bolles

Click on Dick’s photo, or the logo below to hear the podcast (49 mins).

Interview with author and all round careers guru, Dick Bolles, author of the 10 million selling What Color is your Parachute.

[podcast]http://www.brightandassociates.com.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Dick_Bolles.mp3[/podcast]

Fear – the major barrier in career development

There is a common psychological factor that is involved in many career-related issues and that is fear. What comes to mind for you when you hear the word fear? For me there are many different images such as of being a child in a dark place, concerns for physical safety, a feeling of nausea and dread that something bad is about to happen to me or to people I care about, a sense of paralysis or inability to act when you need to, the realisation that it is tax time again….

Fear is hard to pin down, and it is often difficult to detect in other people. Simply observing the behaviour of others may give a false impression. Some people can do things that we feel are immensely brave and then we discover the person was acting out of, or in a state of fear. Sometimes it is the opposite, and people who say they are fearful of something, ultimately when confronted with it, display fearless behaviour.

fearful employee

Fear can be classified into: subjective apprehension (e.g. worries), physiological changes (such as tremors in the hands), expressions (e.g. saying I’m scared) and attempts to evade or avoid situations. It can be focused and on-going such as a neurosis of being alone, or a phobia for spiders or it can arise suddenly for instance during an assault. It can also seemingly have no obvious cause or focal point.

Fear presents a major barrier in career development. For many people applying for a job is a key trigger, to the point that some will shake and others will avoid applying for jobs, or not turn up for interviews. Deciding to stay in a job or leave is another career development decision that is often accompanied by fear. Common fears relate to feelings of inadequacy, unpopularity, unfamiliarity, and advancement.

Fear is a major component in a failure to stand up to or to confront rude, aggressive and bullying behavior in the workplace. This applies not only to workplace bullying but also to commerce, where the fear of losing a contract, a licence, client or customer can lead to quite extraordinary behaviours. One of the most common reactions, sadly, is for those who are fearlful to lash out at others who they perceive to be even more insecure than themselves. Think of Basil Fawlty venting his insecurities on Manuel rather than addressing his own problems to get an idea of how people and companies sometimes respond when acting out of fear.

Fear can also be a reason for the very often pitiful feedback given to employees, and communication between people at work more generally. Some people have an enormous sense of dread about giving feedback to others, that results in them either avoiding giving it, or delivering it in a very charged and emotional manner that rapidly gets out of hand, becomes personal and aggressive and undermines the whole purpose of giving it.

Fear stifles some of the most important career behaviours we need to exhibit to be successful in the 21st century workplace such as flexibility, openness, persistence, curiosity, creativity, teamwork, and leadership.

Fear insinuates itself in the most of our lives, so it more a case of mastering fear rather than striving to eliminate or avoid fear. Spending your career running scared of real or imaginary demons is no way to spend a life. A first step might be to reflect on any areas of your career where you hold fears, and to develop strategies to manage that fear, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. As Mark Twain said, “ Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”.

Job Hunting and dating a socially or sexually transmitted metaphor?

When I published a book in 2000 saying that job hunting was like dating (Resumes the get shortlisted, by Jim Bright and Jo Earl, Allen & Unwin), I never expected the reverse situation to occur, but apparently my esteemed Herald colleague and expert in all matters sexual, Samantha Brett, thinks so. In a column in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 (Turn-offs on the first date, SMH, Friday 30th May), she begins “with first dates feeling more like gruelling job interviews…I’ve decided to help out singletons who are finding it a bit of a struggle”. (Since then a job hunting book based upon the metaphor of dating has been published too, and a google search of blogs finds the idea cropping up all over the place- this metaphor is the new careers socially transmitted disease!!). Now while glossing over why a happily married man like me should be reading Sam’s columns (I only read it for the pictures..), I realised that Sam may have a second career in the sexy world of careers advice, because her tips on dating turn offs all apply equally to job hunting. So lets get to grips with Sam’s tips.

1. Don’t be late. Almost guaranteed to kill your prospects at an interview. Saying you got caught out by traffic/public transport doesn’t cut it these days, savvy people expect it to be an ordeal getting anywhere in Sydney and leave the week before to arrive on time.
He’s rude to the waiters. Sam thinks such people have no respect or common decency, and recruiters are likely to think the same. In careers-speak this means don’t be rude to anyone associated with the organisation you are applying to, and more generally think twice about it in terms of reputational harm at any stage of your career.
He talks about his ex. First date conversations should always be devoid of ex-speak. Exactly the same goes for interviews. Getting into long and involved stories about how you were misunderstood, overlooked and generally done wrong to by your previous or current employer is not a sexy look in an interview. Better to say that all was great, but now is the time to find new challenges, and that you left on good terms.
Don’t go Dutch! Apparently men who don’t for dinner first up are emotionally stingy. In interview terms, don’t make a great fuss about claiming expenses associated with getting to the interview – sure if you are being flown interstate that is generally (but not always) at the employers expense, but demanding the reimbursement of a bus ticket is not a good look, unless you got on the bus in Perth…
Too needy. I have been on interview panels where the applicant has literally begged for the job. It is an unedifying and frankly unsettling experience, and is almost certain to raise questions in the minds of the recruiters.
Anti-feminine. This related to men apparently not liking women being inconsistent in their roles – i.e. wanting to be taken out to dinner (man pays) but not wanting to cook for him. The career equivalent is demonstrating an inconsistency in the role expectations you have of an employer. For instance demanding that you be given flexible hours but complaining that members of your team are “never there”.
Too ditzy. It is interview poison to present as immature, disorganised, eccentric or otherwise whacky. Interviewers haven’t got the time to look behind the ditziness or make allowances. It is not their role. Ditch the ditzy act.
The interviewer. While it is good, even essential to have some questions to ask of the interviewer, it can be a high risk strategy to try to turn the tables and fire a lot of pre-prepared questions at the recruiter. It is fine if you really want to come across as assertive – arrogant even – but appreciate that such behaviour is unusual and could be interpreted by insecure interviews as impertinent, up yourself or indifference.
Unhealthy. I can still to this day recall the applicant who insisted on sharing a blow by blow account of his piles with a panel desperately trying to get the conversation onto higher ground. Never offer comments about your health unless specifically asked.
Presentation. Sadly there is a lot of research suggesting that appearances at interview carry a lot of weight (not unlike me in fact!). Attending to your appearance is important, and getting clothes that fit properly and minimise bulges etc are a good investment in your career. Simple tips here include not wearing blue shirts if you perspire a lot – stick to white. Take a good quality deodorant with you and apply it in the lavatory before you interview. Wear a good quality subtle cologne.

Applying for a job is like dating, ultimately you want the employer at the end of the process to say, “where have you been all of my life”.